PITTSBURGH – Coach Mike Tomlin has said often that injuries are a part of football, but it's unfortunate when injuries to important players are a part of football early in the preseason.
On a night at Heinz Field when the weather was perfect, when Ben Roethlisberger was perfect, when the first-team offense was perfect in the sense it put up a touchdown on its only possession, when Jeff Reed was a perfect 3-for-3 that included a 50-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, when the backups on defense shut out the Eagles in the second half of a 16-10 win by the Steelers, there was a damper placed on this preseason opener with an announcement that came early in the second half.
Charlie Batch broke his right collarbone.
"I don't want to speculate on the length of time," said Tomlin. "I've heard anything from four-to-six weeks with his status. It's an unfortunate incident, but our approach is that it's part of football. We'll regroup and make the necessary adjustments and keep this thing rolling."
Batch was injured midway through the second quarter, at the end of a possession that ended with a 20-yard field goal by Reed that tied the game, 10-10.
That possession began with Rashard Mendenhall rushing for 25 yards on three carries to set up a second-and-7 from the Philadelphia 20-yard line. With Mewelde Moore in the backfield with Batch, there seemed to be a miscommunication on a running play. Instead of handing the ball off, Batch kept it and ran over the left side of the line for a 6-yard gain where he was tackled by Eagles safety Sean Considine.
Batch stayed in for one more play – a 4-yard run by Gary Russell – before being taken into the locker room for the X-rays that revealed the injury.
"It was a miscommunication between Charlie and Mewelde Moore," said Tomlin. "The reality is he ended up with the football and tried to make the best of a bad situation, made a nice play. The competitor in him probably got the best of him, and he lowered his shoulder."
Tomlin said the Steelers will seek to sign another quarterback, and he indicated it would be "a veteran football player." Among the big-name veteran quarterbacks available to be signed are Daunte Culpepper and Byron Leftwich.
Always of particular interest, even in the preseason opener, is the play of the first-team offense, and both teams had to leave their fans feeling good about the evening's events.
The Steelers received the opening kickoff, and there was a lot to like about the eight-play, 80-yard drive they put together to take a 7-0 lead.
Parker, seeing his first game action since breaking his right leg on Dec. 20 in St. Louis, gained 20 yards on three carries. Rashard Mendenhall gained 7 yards on his first NFL carry. Roethlisberger completed both of his passes – 19 yards to Hines Ward and 19 yards to Santonio Holmes for the touchdown. And maybe most significantly, Roethlisberger was under no duress during his pass attempts and the running attack produced 27 yards on six attempts, which translated into a 4.5 average.
"It was awesome that the offensive line did such a good job of run blocking," said Roethlisberger. "We ran the ball really well. On the touchdown play, the Eagles came with a cornerback blitz, but Roethlisberger read it perfectly and quickly got the ball to Holmes in the flat. After the catch, Holmes made a move to get away from Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins and cruise into the end zone.
"We knew it was a corner stunt," said Holmes about the touchdown play. "We didn't want to point it out to let their defensive backs know that we were reading it. We were just on the same page, read it correctly. Ben got the ball to me as quickly as possible, and I made the play after."
Parker carried the ball on the first three plays of the game, and the 20 yards he gained was enough for Tomlin to remove the team's two-time Pro Bowl running back.
"It was big," said Parker about the opening series of the preseason. "It was big for me personally, getting on the field and running and getting everything back. It's just a feeling of a dream come true. I feel like I'm starting all over again."
The Eagles answered with a scoring drive of their own – 70 yards in 14 plays – but the Steelers defense did stiffen in the red zone.
Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb completed 10 of his first 11 passes, but once it got to second-and-7 from the Steelers 10-yard line, he missed on consecutive passes to force the Eagles to settle for a field goal.
On the third-down play, McNabb tried to get the ball to wide receiver Jason Avant in the back corner of the end zone, but he was closely covered by linebacker Lawrence Timmons, and the pass had no real chance to be completed.
"We gave up a field goal early," said safety Ryan Clark about the first-team defense's only series as a unit. "The only positive that you can take away is that we held them to a field goal. We didn't let them score (a touchdown) in the red zone, but we have a lot of work to do."
Special teams and the defense set up the Steelers' go-ahead field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Paul Ernster's 40-yard punt combined with a fine play in coverage by Willie Reid to force the Eagles to start deep in their own territory with 2:25 left in the third quarter. On the play, Reid defeated the block and dumped returner DeSean Jackson for an 8-yard loss. When an unsportsmanlike penalty was tacked on, the Eagles were forced to start at their own 9-yard line.
After managing one first down, the Eagles faced a third-and-10 from their 24-yard line when quarterback Kevin Kolb fumbled the shotgun snap and defensive end Ryan McBean recovered for the Steelers at the 21-yard line.
A 9-yard completion from Dennis Dixon to Limas Sweed set up a third-and-1, and Gary Russell converted with a 4-yard gain to the Philadelphia 8-yard line. Three plays later, Reed's 24-yard field goal broke the tie and provided all the points the Steelers would need to win their preseason opener.